Shamanic Breathwork: Methods, Benefits and How you can do it home
Breathwork has become such a popularized topic over the last decade, partly because it is an easy point to pedal but a hard truth to ride. What I wish here is to "demythisize" it.
We as a species have a tendency to get caught in the novelty of yet another course unfortunately missing respect for the depth it can bring.
This is a hard thing to say on one level because we came from generations of no breathwork (as if it’s work , breath is instinctive and requires a lot to stop it)
"The real effort is in the attention which we combine with our breath as a form of remembrance."
Like generations of yoga we are now in shamanic breath decade.
It is quite easy to see that much of our breathwork stems from contact with yogic traditions and people like Wim Hoff , Stanaslaf Groff and holotropic breathwork etc. As well as the psychological fields of altering ones breath when caught in a frenzy of reactionary states.
What role does breath play in our lives?
So let’s come back to a few points:
1. Instinctive yet vital
The breath like the heartbeat is controlled by instinctive functions and generally falls below the awareness of the average person. But if deprived of breath we quickly realize how vital it is to our physical life and how we would fight to the death when this function is played with.
2. Intimately tied with our experiences
Secondly, breath is intimately tied with the experiences of our life. It is this closeness to the instinctive functioning of the body that ties the sympathetic responses of fight and flight to the breath. This process creates somatic imprints in our body and paves the way for the future unconscious responses.
In the absence of some form of consciousness of self breath is simply used as a reactive mechanism.
This continued imprinting is what sculpts the conditioned, limited feeling of self commonly called the ego (limited sense of self imposed by one self on oneself). A ridiculous state of affairs but very human.
Connection between breath and states of consciousness
Both yogic and shamanic paths recognize various connections or influences when the breath is connected to the attention. Focused attention repeatedly made them more aware of the basic dialogue within the mind-body relationship.
Eastern schools also studied the effects of hypnotism and noticed various correlations between breath and states of consciousness.
Another good example is the Siberian or Mongolian shaman who through breathwork places himself in trance in order to achieve a state of connection with the spirit world. Inside this world he retrieves information and brings it back into this world. Some remember their experience and others do not. Eastern schools studied this and realized that some individuals had more capacity to remember what was happening inside the field .
The method: how does breath connect to the mind-body structure and impact our lives?
This brings us back to our current topic - the revival of the understanding of how breath connects to the mind-body structure.
The very first scientists of the mind were yogis and shamans and this is what they found through continuous experimentation:
"By exercising their attention over the instinctive function of the breath they were able to override the reactionary mechanisms of the mind/body and raise their level of being"
This simply means that they were able to bear more of life's weight and pressures by skillfully and consciously steering their internal experience.
Breath and it's role in Ayahuasca field
Breath is also an amazing anchor and strengthener inside the field of Ayahuasca, allowing one to maintain composure as opposed to falling apart.
What this proves is that there is a graduated capacity to cultivate the experience in the field that is verifiable through years of experimentation.
Unfortunately most of the time we are looking for stories of psychedelic wonders or "miracles" where the being is taken apart and reassembled by the medicines or by someone who has capacity in the field.
Attention through breath is not required for this as the doctor or shaman nurses them through the humps and bumps of the journey.
Willingly or not shamans became competent in the field because of attention to breath which enabled them to "breath in the field". This increased their functionality inside of the medicine allowing them to see and communicate with the spirit world.
Experienced shamans noticed that the breath fluctuated when in fear and learnt to overcome the reactive responses and to control the adrenals. As a result this slowed and stabilized their minds, brought their feelings into a solid sense of self which is essential when floating in the infinite space of psychedelic mind.
Mastery of breath also allows any residue of stress to be reabsorbed back into the body by way of relaxation-feedback mechanisms. This formed the fundamental building block for yogic life as they found that the shamanic world provided an intense and concentrated world in which to flex our mind/spirit muscles.
Study of breathwork across different traditions
1. South American traditions
At the current times in the South American traditions there is very little said about things like breath work.
Why is that the case if breath practices are so essential to skillfully navigate the field?
My wild guess - that has become the case because the knowledge was lost or erased by colonial evangelist traditions.
2. Gurdjieff studies and other Esoteric schools
People like Gurdjieff’s and the schools that he emerged from observed that:
"The combination of intoxicating substances (chemical drugs, alcohol etc) with intense psychological states resulted in a mind crystallization that was extremely hard to break free from"
Being a human being one notices we can quite easily become addicted to any thing, especially intense experiences.
What does this have to do with breath?
The intoxicating substance mixes with the instinctive breath crystallizing not only craving (or desire as Buddhist define it) but also inevitable suffering. One must know: "a greater degree of suffering is required to decrystallize a fixed state than the intensity that created it. "
Ayahuasca’s forte is this - it's ability to de-crystallize fixed states/cravings/addictions. This leads to some of the most intense Ayahuasca experiences - reliving and releasing pain.
Ayahuasca releases the engrams of the mind, at the same time adjusting the grip of the sympathetic nervous system SNS ( responsible for fight and flight).
"Studies of our nervous system show how much the use of attention and breath play in releasing the grip of the associative mind from the memory stored in the body (as the body has a memory separate to the brain)."
Is experience in breathwork necessary before attending an Ayahuasca ceremony?
For those who want to attend a ceremony it is not necessary to have prior breathwork training.
Ayahuasca when viewed as a medicine to heal works without your conscious awareness and is still fully capable of undoing your psychological knots.
"As part of Shamballa retreat experience you will be introduced to fundamentals of breathwork and it's importance throughout your integration/post retreat journey"
As for the experienced Shaman or Yogi - mastery of breathwork is an irreplaceable companion that they use to focus attention in critical moments both in and outside of ceremony.
"I want to learn breathwork: where do I start?"
But if you are grabbed by the wonders of this medicine, also begin to look at and study the breath and attention within yourself.
Ideally your attention and breath should be welded in unison as in yoga.
"Frequent breath causes hyperventilation and therefore speeds up the mind and flames the emotions.
A slow breath creates a forceful cadence of attention giving you such a needed pause to respond consciously to a situation."
Attention and effort through breath brings into action the vagus nerve and control over the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) allowing the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to release its mechanisms of fight and flight.
1. Breath and Yoga
Yoga classes is a good starting point to experiment with breath and attention
A good yoga instructor combines strength, flexibility and endurance while consciously drawing attention to the breath.
A yogi applies slow rhythmic breath to calm the mind to a point of focus (Drishti) both strengthening and relaxing the muscular nervous system
2. Breath and Mantras
Mantras or some form of repetition was often mentally tied to the breath so as to stop the associative mind stealing mental focus. Mantra was used as a mental weight connecting it to the instinctive functioning of the breath, which over time began to form a feedback loop.
3. Breathwork varieties
There are many other types of Breathwork which have emerged over the last few decades, including Integrative Breathwork, Holotropic Breathwork, Transformational Breathwork, Shamanic Breathwork, Conscious Connected Breathing, Radiance Breathwork
As you can see, there are many diverse techniques and styles that are now incorporated in retreats.
If you never have experienced your breath consciously (and most have not till they enter some form of course, practice or retreat) - it could be a good starting point and a beginning of a life long practice.
It could also turn out to be just an exciting hype of the moment to be discarded later.
In any case worth a try as you are in process of discovering what ultimately works for You.
This is a life practice for the body/mind
Breath takes place 33,000 times a day and we often fail to notice it.
From a yogic perspective it is considered a long term study and discipline inseparable from "the path"
From a healing perspective it is a release tool and an object of focus when you find yourself in the "eternity" in the middle of a ceremony. A perfect moment to remember golden advice to breath and surrender.
How much you personally will engage this practice in your life, it is an individual choice. Experiment and do it for yourself as a means of strengthening the relationship with Self.
However I strongly recommend to stay away from the hype of our "new age practices" - popularizing all that is new without really understanding what we are engaging in. So be diligent with your research and then experiment and see for yourself.
Good Luck :)
Sacred Valley November 28th - December 4th
7-day inner journey combining ancient wisdom of sacred plants Ayahuasca and San Pedro with an extensive integration program. Emphasis is on the whole - mind, body and soul and our goal is to bring transcendental knowledge into participants life: transcending the limitations of self.